Movie Reviews 415 – Five Deadly Venoms (1978)

A dying martial arts teacher confides to his last remaining student Yang the tale of the five former students he once taught, now collectively called the Poison Clan. Knowing that these five students – the titular Five Deadly Venoms  (AKA The Five Venoms) – have been using their specialised Kung Fu skills for nefarious deeds, he asks his last student to track them down and end their ongoing evil exploits. But there is a catch. As these students trained under the master, they each wore a mask hiding their true identity. The master can offer but one equally mysterious lead. Yun, a former fellow teacher of the dying master has amassed a small fortune that the Poison Clan are scheming to get there hands on. By finding Yun, Yang can determine the identities of the Poison Clan and end their reign. Yang is told that he alone cannot win over the superior Poison Clan members should he take them on individually. But one among them is actually respectable and if Yang can determine which, their combined abilities can overcome those of the evil ones.

The five Poison Clan members have each specialized in a specific form of fighting technique.  Comprised of the Centipede, the Snake, the Scorpion, the Lizard, and the Toad, we get a glimpse of each masked fighter in flashbacks as the teacher tells his tale. The teacher also counsels Yang on a few bits of knowledge relating to the five members (actually often referred to as “Number 1”, “Number Two”, etc. during the film) that may help him find the Poison gang.  To wit, the first two knew each other, and four and five knew each other, while the third, the Scorpion, was a mystery to everyone.

Yang departs on his mission and begins to observe the ongoings in the nearest town. Sure enough, he begins to suspect a few people after observing some deft use of hands and odd interactions on the street. But before he can find him, members of the gang kill Yun and his family leaving Yang to figure out “Who’s Who” on his own. As Yang continues his mission, the clan members themselves are battling one another (often with the aid of corrupt officials) and try to figure out their respective identities among themselves.

Most of the intrigue is playing along with the guessing game as pieces of the puzzle are slowly sorted out until the final reveal of the most mysterious member, Number 3 as well as which of the five will come to Yang’s aide. But I confess that for a renowned wuxia film, the fighting, while admirable, does not live up to the sophistication of the best films of the era. I do have to admit that among some torture scenes the use of an actual Iron Maiden was both a surprise and a standout.

Released by the illustrious Shaw Brothers studios this classic was produced by Runme Shaw and ironically released the same year as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which I consider one of their finest. This is yet another one of those films often reference in media, most notably in Kill Bill as the five assassins of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad.

Sadly, my DVD viewing experience from a dreadful Saturn Productions DVD left much to be desired. The godawful transfer looked like black and white at times, suffered from poor dubbing and I had the distinct feeling that this was an incomplete cut with missing and/or displaced scenes. I do recommend seeking this film out, but do so with one of the many remastered/restored versions available. I hope to get another copy myself to fully enjoy this next time I watch it.

 

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